Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yanks roll Royals, build playoff momentum after clinching division

After an 8-2 drubbing of Kansas City last night, the New York Yankee sit at 101-56, eight games ahead of the Dodgers for the best record in baseball.

Sitting at 51-37 and three games behind Boston heading into the All-Star Break, the Yankees have gone an astonishing 50-19 since the second half began, never losing more than three in a row while stringing together six winning streaks of four games or longer, including their current six-game streak which includes two wins in Anaheim and three against the Red Sox.

Heading into the seventh inning last night with a 3-2 lead against Royals starter Luke Hochevar, the Yankees chased him from the game with a five-run inning. Catching sparkplug Francisco Cervelli led off with a double and scored on a single by Ramiro Pena, who stole second. After a Brett Gardner single and Melky Cabrera walk, Robinson Cano came up with the based loaded.

Cano has not performed well in the past with the bases loaded, with just one career grand slam and a batting average well under .300. But the Yanks are bucking almost every trend they've set over the past few years and this was no different, as Cano pounded a Hochevar mistake into the right-field bleachers to extend New York's lead to 8-2 and end Hochevar's day.

After sweeping the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium and clinching the AL East, as well as locking down the best record in baseball, it would have been easy for the Yankees to take a game off, or even the last six. But as I say every time I post about them, this team is just different.

When Ramiro Pena hit his first career home run off Hochevar in the fifth, he returned to the dugout to a high-five from Joe Girardi and silence from his teammates. A couple seconds later, the smiles busted out and Pena got his congratulations. The chemistry in the Yankee dugout is reminiscent of the championship years of the late 1990s, a key component that management seemed to overlook with their spend-heavy approach so far this decade.

Back to the Boston series for a second though, where the Yankees outscored the Sox 16-7 in the three-game set. Joba Chamberlain was finally let loose in the opener and he responded, working efficiently and throwing just 86 pitches in six innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs while walking just one.

Chamberlain will get one more start before the playoffs against the Royals on Wednesday, and another efficient outing should give him the necessary confidence to be the Yankees fourth starter if they advance past the first round.

C.C. Sabathia threw seven innings of one-hit ball in his game-two shutout, and the Yankees haven't had an innings-eating horse like this at the top of their rotation in years. Andy Pettitte pitched great as well in game three, helping the Yankees to their ninth win in their last 10 games with Boston after they lost the first eight.

If Joba is truly back on track and ready to go deeper into games, the Yankees starting rotation in the playoffs will be one of the best we've seen from them in years. The bullpen continues to take care of business and hold the leads they're given and the Yankees depth throughout the lineup and on the bench will prove to be invaluable in the postseason.

I know it seems like I repeat myself every time I write about the Yankees, but it's difficult to contain my excitement for October baseball this season. It's been smooth sailing for New York ever since the All-Star Break, and that's about the only thing that scares me right now. The Yankees haven't faced any serious adversity in months, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the adversity they will inevitably face in baseball's second season.

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